Strom Thurmond head coach Lee Sawyer sees a lot of similarities between his team and its opponent tonight in the third-round of the Class AAA playoffs.
When the Region 5-AAA champion Rebels (11-1) take the field tonight at Hanahan, they’ll face a squad with an identical record that also collected a region championship. The Hawks won the Region 8-AAA crown without dropping a region game, their only loss a four-point defeat by Timberland. Strom Thurmond’s only loss was also by four points, to Eastern Christian Academy. Both teams beat Hilton Head, with the Rebels winning 63-20 after Hanahan won 63-28.
The teams have been among the leaders in the state media poll all season, with Strom Thurmond coming to rest at No. 4 with Hanahan sitting at No. 6.
Regardless of the similarities in résumé, Sawyer knows there will be one major difference after tonight.
“Two real good football teams,” he said. “One of them’s going home; one of them’s playing on Thanksgiving weekend.”
The likenesses don’t end with records and rankings, though. Like Strom Thurmond, Sawyer said Hanahan has an offense that could score a lot of points on big plays. So he hopes to keep the ball away from the Hawks and control the clock.
“Their offense just lives on the big play,” he said. “They can score quick, so I guess it’s kind of like what people try to do against us.”
The potent attack starts with quarterback Anthony Smalls, a SCADA North-South selection. In last week’s win over Myrtle Beach, Smalls completed eight of his 16 passes for 241 yards and two 77-yard touchdown passes. He also ran for scores of 6 and 19 yards displaying versatility that makes Smalls one of the main focuses for the Rebels’ “Blue Steel” defense.
“He’s one big problem,” Sawyer said.
The rest of the concern for the Rebels will lie on the outside of the offensive formation in receivers Mario Bates and Terrell Green. Bates, who scored on a 51-yard reverse last week, has made a “lot of big plays” for the Hawks this year, but Green was the star of the show against Myrtle Beach.
After missing most of the year with an injury, the 6-foot-5 speedster caught both of Smalls’ touchdown passes, and the duo of targets creates coverage issues for any defense.
“They’re a lot like us on offense; there’s a lot of weapons out there you have to account for,” Sawyer said.
Rebel corners Hykeem Brooks, a North-South selection in his own right, and Israel Talbert will be tasked with keeping those receivers in check. Talbert leads the team with five interceptions, and Brooks is right behind him with four.
When the Rebels have the ball, they’ll turn to their own big-play threats, led by quarterback Jauveer Hammond. The junior ran the ball 22 times for 118 yards and two scores in last week’s win over Marlboro County to go with 147 passing yards and another score on a Hail Mary just before halftime. That brings his total for the year to 1,040 rushing yards and 17 scores on the ground to go with 1,552 passing yards and 17 more touchdowns through the air.
He also has a pair of potent weapons in running back Darius Hammond and receiver Ty Brooks. Darius has 1,343 rushing yards, 222 receiving yards and 24 total touchdowns, also including scores in the kick return game. Brooks is closing in on a milestone with 973 receiving yards to go with 11 scores.
The trio will be looking to find the end zone against a Hawk defense that runs a different scheme than the Rebels’ 3-5 formation, but the home team will employ a similar style of play.
“They’re not as big as Marlboro County, but they run well ... kind of similar to our defense,” Sawyer said.
Because of that speed and technical ability, Sawyer said it will be important for his team to pay attention to how many Hawk defenders are in the box. When the situation is right for the run, the Hammonds and James McKie will run. When the time is right for the pass, Jauveer will be looking downfield for Brooks or one of his other receivers.
As for the Rebels’ first road trip of the postseason, Sawyer said that the goal will be to keep the routine as similar to a home or close road game as possible. Still, the Rebels’ ability to grab solid positioning for the playoffs year in and year out has made such trips rare for the program.
“We’ve been fortunate; we haven’t had to travel a whole lot in the playoffs since I’ve been here,” Sawyer said.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.
What: Class AAA, Lower State semifinals
Who: Strom Thurmond (11-1) at Hanahan (11-1)
Where: Hanahan High School, 6015 Murray Drive, Hanahan
When: 7:30 p.m.
Last Meeting: Hanahan beat Strom Thurmond 14-8 in 1981